More than 20 million Canadians suffer from digestive complications and disorders every year, according to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation. There are a range of digestive system issues with a range of causes, but because of its integral role in the digestive process, magnesium provides a conveniently universal solution for most of the digestive troubles you may experience.
Magnesium is a cofactor (a substance whose presence is essential for the activity of an enzyme) for countless enzymatic reactions in the body. Many of these reactions are those that take place in the gut, while digesting and converting your food into protein and energy that can be used throughout the body.
Why is Everybody Talking about Gut Health?
In general, when we talk about gut health, we are referring to the state and physical function of the multiple components that make up the GI (gastrointestinal) tract. These are the organs that help you eat and digest food. In recent years, scientists have explored more in-depth what we know now as our ‘gut microbiome,’ which refers to the climate within our digestive tract that ideally allows for uninterrupted digestion.
Keeping a healthy gut means having good bacteria and plenty of immune cells that can protect your body from nasty bacteria and viruses in the gut, if necessary. A healthy gut allows for communication throughout the body, in the form of hormones and nerves, which leads to a healthy brain, heart, and body. The gut is home to 70% of your body’s immune cells, making it the “control centre” of the immune system.
Maintaining a happy and healthy gut allows for our bodies to get the most from the foods we consume, which is only possible if the gut can break down your meals in order for your bloodstream to deliver it, in the form of nutrients, to the rest of the body.
Signs Your Gut Needs Some Love
Digestive discomfort can hide in the shadows, and for that reason some people ignore their pain for long periods of time. Many common digestive problems like constipation, bloating, and heartburn can be remedied, but keep people from living well if untreated. These are some of the symptoms of an unhealthy gut:
- Stomach upset
- Sudden, unexpected weight changes
- Insomnia or constant fatigue
- Food intolerances
Magnesium Deficiency and Gastrointestinal Trouble
Magnesium deficiency could contribute to digestive issues. Without magnesium, your body has trouble fulfilling many of the processes that contribute to smooth digestion.
Magnesium contributes to the activation of the enzymes that are essential in the body’s absorption of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It is also important for the synthesis of protein and energy, as well as enzymes that work as catalysts in numerous reactions throughout the body. Without enough of the vital mineral, the body would be unable to take advantage of the nutritional benefits of food, which could lead to other, more serious health problems.
Because of its role in enzyme and hormone production throughout the body, magnesium is vital throughout the digestive process, from the minute you open your mouth. The production of the enzymes in saliva is partially fuelled by magnesium, and stomach acid, which you need in order to digest food, is signalled to be made by a hormone that requires magnesium. Once food is in your intestines, it is further broken down by enzymes made in the pancreas. This organ relies on magnesium to stay healthy and create these essential enzymes.
A common misconception is that heartburn (acid reflux), and in more chronic cases Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), is caused by too much stomach acid. In fact, the opposite is true. The feeling of heartburn is a result of low stomach acid, leading to reduced digestive capability. This reduced capacity means that food is sitting in the same place for too long, and it begins to ferment, cause bloating, and after a while, it will push back up into the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is what causes acid reflux. For this reason, heartburn is not so much about having too much stomach acid, and more about there being too little acid, and in the wrong places.
Magnesium and Constipation
One of the widely known benefits of magnesium supplementation is that it keeps us regular, naturally. Magnesium citrate is often recommended as a gentle laxative for anyone experiencing occasional constipation. It’s an osmotic laxative, which means it works by drawing water into the intestines and relaxing your bowels, making them easier to eliminate.
Because magnesium citrate as a laxative works by pulling water into the intestines, it is recommended that people using it to ease digestive trouble take it with water and stay hydrated throughout the day. It is important to keep your electrolytes balanced as these can be lost with fluids.
There are circumstances under which patients should not use magnesium to treat constipation, depending on other medication and medical conditions. Consult a professional if your discomfort is chronic.
Ways to Improve Gut Health
There are a number of different ways to improve gut health, depending on the issue you’re experiencing. These are tips that should help in overall upkeep, but make sure to consult a doctor or medical professional to receive personalized advice based on your individual condition.
Continued high levels of stress aren’t good for any part of your body or mind, and that includes the gut. You can use a number of different strategies to mitigate stress levels. Some people enjoy yoga, some use aromatherapy, and others take supplements to help alleviate stress.
The body’s response to stress depletes magnesium, but magnesium is essential to offset stress. By lowering cortisol levels (the hormone that controls the fight-or-flight response), and balancing the nervous system to relax muscles and mind, magnesium is an optimal supplement choice for those struggling with stress. When taken orally, it also carries a natural laxative effect, which helps if constipation is one of the digestive issues you are encountering.
Getting the water your body needs is an easy way to promote the health of your gut, as well as the rest of your body. Keeping hydrated has a positive effect on the lining of the intestines, and the balance of good bacteria in your gut.
Disturbed or insufficient amounts of sleep can have a significant effect on your gut health, which in turn could lead to more trouble sleeping. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night.
If falling asleep is a problem, magnesium can help. Adequate magnesium intake promotes the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter essential to proper sleep, as well as lowering cortisol, and helping you sleep in similar ways to the way in which it can help reduce stress. Natural Calm’s Calmful Sleep includes both magnesium and GABA, along with other sleep activators like melatonin.